New Zealand international Max Mata has plenty of reasons to be taking a keen interest in the upcoming OFC U-19 Championships 2022.
Not only is he a former tournament top-scorer but he will be supporting two nations when the competition gets underway from Tahiti on September 7.
Mata followed in the footsteps of Oceania greats such as Fiji’s Roy Krishna and countryman Kosta Barbarouses when he finished top of the goalscoring charts at the OFC U-19s four years ago.
His five goals included a group stage hat-trick against Papua New Guinea and put him one clear of team-mate Charles Spragg in the scoring charts. Mata’s goals also helped New Zealand to a seventh title and earned them a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019™.
Speaking to OFC Media ahead of September’s tournament, Mata admits his performances helped his individual career, with moves to Switzerland, Estonia, the United States and the Republic of Ireland, where he currently plies his trade with Sligo Rovers, following.
However, it is the team spirit and national pride he remembers most fondly.
“My memories of the tournament are very happy as it was successful in the fact we qualified for the U-20 World Cup,” said Mata.
“We had a very good brotherhood amongst us. We encouraged each other every day and held each other accountable.
“If you’re lucky enough to play in these tournaments it’s important that you make the most of it and make your country proud.”
For Mata, who made his All Whites debut in 2019, that last sentence has double meaning. He will not only be cheering on New Zealand at this year’s OFC U-19s, but the Cook Islands as well.
His brother Ben, a former New Zealand U-17 representative, captained the Cook Islands at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ – Oceania Qualifiers in March and Max is clearly hoping the Cook Islands can use this experience as a positive.
“I’m very proud to have Cook Island blood,” said Max.
“My brother is now representing the country and I am extremely proud to see him playing there. I hope to see the growth of football in the nation getting better every year.”
It’s clear that Mata’s own experiences in Tahiti four years ago have played a big part in what is still a burgeoning career. At just 22 years old he still has a bright football career ahead of him but youth tournaments such as this are already in the past.
So Mata has a message for all the players, not just from New Zealand and the Cook Islands, representing their nations this month.
“Make the most of the opportunity as you can only play the age group competitions once in your life,” said Mata.
“Be proud to represent your country and express yourself to the world.”
The OFC U-19 Championships take place in Tahiti from September 7-24.
Click here to view the squads for the tournament.